The education portal – a look back:

It’s September 2028, and school is just beginning. Students have spent the summer on the education portal, reading about their interests and completing small projects with friends, and others they met online.

In London, Ontario, sixteen high-school kids had gotten together over the summer and started a basketball club. They invited grade five, six, and seven students from the community to come and train.  On the education portal, there was a lot of content on basketball. Students across North America were playing fantasy drafts, and discussing statistics, to create statistical predictions of who would win. However, what these sixteen students were interested in was technique, how could they be effective coaches?

They charted which coaching techniques were more successful, and which were less – and in the end, they knew, because they had the data to show it. On the first-day back at school, they presented their summer project, and were able to use statistics, math, and physics to explain their successes and failures. For their year-long personal project, they decided to go to local elementary schools three times a week, and train their basketball team. In doing so, they identified how this would contribute to their understandings of business (management), physics, math (budgeting and financing), nutrition, and physical fitness.

Another group of learners focused on green-urban environments and set-up small gardens in their yards. They used the education portal to find out what plants were easiest to grow, which were most nutritious, and shared their experiences with different fertilizer and planting-techniques. After harvesting their crops, they took them to a local school and worked with a volunteer teacher to test the nutritional properties of their harvest in the lab. On their first-day back the students presented what they learned.

For their year-long personal project, they wanted to start a school greenhouse. They identified how this would develop their biology, chemistry, and math skills. They also highlighted how it would help them develop a better understanding of nutrition, agriculture, and community membership. Furthermore, they developed a five-year plan, showing how profits from the sale of produce would pay for the greenhouse in half a decade.

During the first month of school, students have the opportunity to develop independent learning proposals, that are then approved by teacher-mentors. The teachers then work with the students during designated periods to assist with their learning, and ensure they are meeting the expectations set by curricular PLOs. Although this is more common in high-school, it is still quite frequent in middle-school and the junior years of elementary.

Much of student learning takes place through engagement in the international online-learning community. Homeroom teachers monitor student performance and offer guidance and mentorship on their self-directed projects.

In the past, there were big problems with harassment and bullying online, but now students are taught how to behave on social networks. Students know that what they share online is not necessarily private, and there are far less cases of harassment and sharing of inappropriate or illegal media. On the education platform students each have their own accounts and usernames that they have created. These accounts do not show the students’ age, gender, or picture – though peers who know each other personally can add each other. Basically, they know who their friends are, but the identities of their online peers are a mystery. Cyber-bullying is a real danger, and it is one that the education portal takes seriously.

               The teachers have their own platform too. A large part of their network is based around their class. They can see who their students are, and what their past experiences have been. They have access to the anecdotal and formal reports from previous years, and can get in touch with students’ old teachers, even if they are from a different district, province, or country. As long as their school also used the education platform, everything is available.

But that’s not all. Professional development and collaboration are important parts of the teacher portal. The software uses a deep-learning AI to create community groups that teachers join each year. The groups are created based on the teacher’s own personal profile, as well as one generated by administration.

Different people have different teaching styles, some are bigger risk-takers than others. The deep learning algorithms are trained to balance the groups so that everyone is in a community that best suits them. Does the teacher enjoy cross-curricular collaboration? Does the teacher think deeply and need similar minded teachers to build systems around their style? Does the teacher think broadly and benefit from a community of varied practitioners who look at teaching very differently?

Each teacher community identifies a common goal that they can reach – and a plan to measure and implement the success of their initiatives. This type of professional action research is at the heart of what makes the education platform, the education platform. By sharing their results, and the methods used, successful projects are incorporated into the database, and can be used by any other classroom on the system.

In 2023, one group started using a town-building MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) to build community in a class of at-risk learners. They received a grant from the education portal and partnered with an independent game developer.

Their game was based on the workings of construction and survival games like Minecraft, Stardew Valley, Rust, and many more. Each student picked a role in the community, farmer, merchant, carpenter, blacksmith, shop keep – and each night, students would connect and spend some time working to develop the town. They had to trade with each other, and work together in order to be successful. They could also trade with other towns (the other teachers in the learning community’s classes), and were able to trade, as well as compete to reach certain goals. The teacher was able to incentivize classroom participation by offering “loot boxes” to students who performed well in class.

Data gathered from this experiment showed that the platform helped to strongly develop classroom community membership, as well as literacy skills – due to the text-based nature of the game. However, it also distracted students from their other homework, because they identified playing the game as “doing their homework.”

It is now being used quite broadly, with later iterations of the game being developed that apply more curricular expectations. Banks were added to incorporate math, and a physics, biology and chemistry simulation was added for architects, doctors, and pharmacists respectively. Other teachers developed a bingo system that made students change professions after a set time (weeks, or a month), so that everyone gets to experience all parts of the game (and curriculum). This year, a few groups are looking at developing incentives towards collaborative support, to better incorporate peer-help and collaboration in the game portal.

Data gathering is an important part of the education platform, because it helps inform the success of whatever is taking place. Academic research has undergone a strong, but gradual shift to using the platform – although traditional publishing companies have fought hard to maintain the status-quo.

Researchers on the portal can do a survey of what teacher teams are working on and send messages if they find groups that are working on similar projects.

One of the earliest and most championed successes on the education portal happened in 2021. A group of teachers were looking into providing effective interventions for dyslexic students. One of the main causes of dyslexia is a lack in phonological awareness, which is the ability to properly recognize different sounds in spoken language. Basically, if you don’t know what a word sounds like, you can’t read it.

As they were looking into this, a researcher from the University of Ottawa connected with them. She, and her PhD students were in the process of developing a phonemic awareness assessment task and wanted to apply it on a broad scale. The assessment task was digitized and given to students in early elementary. It was quite good at identifying students at-risk of reading difficulties and struggles.

Over the next two years, culminating with their paper “Dyslexia interventions through the education portal”, teachers and researchers collaborated to refine the assessment task, and develop programs meant to help at-risk students. Over the two-year period, the community grew large, and the tests and interventions were administered to over 100,000 students.

Working with computer-scientists, the teams began training a deep-learning algorithm to assess students and recommend effective intervention strategies and tasks for the practicing teacher. As a result, levels of dyslexia are at the lowest they have ever been. Three of the teachers who were most involved were offered research positions at leading Canadian universities, while the researchers and computer-scientists have become notable authorities in their field.

As the platform has grown significantly since then, it is now able to offer grants to five in-depth research studies a year. Applicants are free to submit proposals, which, after an initial vetting stage, are chosen by teachers on the portal. They can choose research projects that excite them, and sign-up to become test-classrooms the following school year.

There have been some great successes on the education portal, that have changed lives. However, on a day-to-day level, administrators are quick to throw their support behind it. “Teachers know that if they work hard on something they are passionate about, it will be recognized.” If a teacher contributes to a resource that gets a lot of interest, they are given modest financial compensation. It is work, and the platform wants to recognize that. It might mean a few hundred dollars more a year, but it is a nice bonus, and does incentivize meaningful contribution. Furthermore, adapting GitHub’s tracking system, all contributors are recognized for their work – allowing professionals to substantially develop their resumes.

Others, who are unable to devote as much time to the creation aspect, know that because of the education portal, and its research backed, constantly refined program, they are providing best-practice education that can reach all learners.

Schools are able to sponsor long-range inquiry projects that involve the whole school and can result in local (and sometimes) international press. These projects are well supported throughout, with other schools and professionals offering guidance when things inevitably hit a snag.

Lastly, due to the huge userbase, government grants, and ethical advertising revenue, the education portal is able to fund collaborations with popular movie and video-game franchises to hook young learners with exactly what they are interested in. A decade ago, box-office revenue was declining, and big movie studios were not sure what to do. Now, the latest Avengers franchise champions Tony Stark as an engineer – and students can join him in his workshop, to develop the latest in Stark Industries technology. Video games are being developed intentionally for the education sector, because there is finally a road-map to making effective educational games.

In the past decade, education hasn’t changed, but how we share our work has. We built a platform that built collaborative teams of professionals, working on projects meaningful to them. It was embraced by schools, and helped students construct the knowledge they wanted to learn.

It was all happening already, but it was happening on a small scale, a million times over, in classrooms all over the world.

What we do as educators, is the same as thing we’ve always done – try to reach all learners, with the best quality of education we can provide.

The difference, is that now, finally, we are doing it together.

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